Friday, 29 August 2014

Neptune at opposition.

The planet Neptune reached opposition (i.e. was directly opposite the Sun seen from Earth) at  2.18 pm GMT on Friday 29 August 2014. This means that it will both be at its closest to the Earth this year, about 28.96 AU (28.96 times the average distance between the Earth and the Sun, or about 4 332 000 000 km), and completely illuminated by the Sun. While it is not visible to the naked eye observer, the planets have phases just like those of the Moon; being further from the Sun than the Earth, Neptune is 'full' when directly opposite the Sun. 

The planet Neptune, as imaged by the Voyager 2 space probe. NASA.

While the relative positions of the planets have no direct influence on life on Earth, the opposition of Saturn does present the best opportunity for observations of the planet by Earth-based observers. At the moment Neptune is well placed for observation in the constellation of Aquarius, and while not naked-eye visible it should be possible to observe the planet through a moderate sized telescope.

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The planet Saturn will be at opposition (directly opposite the Sun) at about 6.00 pm GMT on Saturday 10 May 2014. This means that it will both be at its closest to the...


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